Changed Lives Changing Lives

“His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me.”

Words from Betty Bartlett’s favorite song ring true each and every day in her home. Betty, a 72-year-old, cancer-surviving widow expressed her joy as eight high school students painted the cupboards and walls in her warm, loving home. With appreciation in her voice, Betty said she felt strengthened by this group of students; making her feel like a person instead of “just a little old lady”.

Coming from eight cities across the United States and Canada, the 156 high-school-aged Youth Unlimited Serve participants were mobilized by their home church to Grand Rapids, Michigan, not knowing exactly what was in store for them. With a week packed full of opportunities planned by the local host church to serve the community, these students would change more lives than they could count.

Serving people, like Betty, in their homes, in organizations, in warehouses, in thrift stores, in soup kitchens or even out on the streets, the volunteers discovered excitement in sharing the love of Christ. Equipped with a helpful, Christ-centered heart, these volunteers were giving the gift of confidence, love and respect back to the community; especially to people like Betty.

Sharing God’s heart of compassion for the poor, broken and lonely, the host church(es), Youth Unlimited and World Renew worked together to enrich the lives of teenagers. After exposing the growing physical, mental, emotional and social needs of people in the world to the students, Youth Unlimited and World Renew wanted them to see what they can do.

Youth Unlimited used principles and messages from LIVE 58 to create a curriculum that inspires students to live missionally. With the solid application of scripture and a compelling global vision exhibited in LIVE 58 resources, it was natural for Youth Unlimited to seek real life stories of gospel impact from World Renew and urge students to engage with their church in global issues upon their return home. Together, these organizations are empowering and equipping people to live out the gospel message through words and actions.

Bob Grussing, the youth pastor at LaGrave Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI, explained how Serve helps equip and shape teenagers’ futures. Giving teenagers the opportunity to serve in communities across Canada and the U.S. allows for them to expand their thinking and know they are part of a bigger world. The Serve volunteers shared in the mission of Isaiah 58, showing the love of God through their work.

As Grussing explained, embracing your own church and then your own community sets you up for embracing the broader community, eventually leading to embracing the world. Continuing on, he said, “This is a beginning of what students can do with their lives. They can make an impact here at Serve and then at home by showing that same hope and passion.”

“In doing the work, we are building relationships,” said Jennifer Heerema, a Serve participant.

“It changes how you look at people and it’s a lot easier than what you would expect,” said Chris Beezhold, another Serve participant.

Nick Moelker, Worksite Coordinator of Grand Rapids Serve said, “Our shirts say ‘Serve’ and that is a piece of it, but it’s more of getting the kids to build a relationship with Christ.” Building a relationship with Christ is the foundation for building a relationship with other people.

Jay Knoblock, the leader of street evangelism at Grand Rapids Serve, said, “Being the hands and feet of Jesus is what we are created for. We need to minister to people where they are at; reaching outside the community and being willing to take a risk.”

Nick Hoffman, a Serve leader from Minnesota, took that risk to reach outside the community. Previously, he went on a World Renew mission trip to Guatemala with a church group where he was inspired by Lazaro Aguin, a man that has collaborated with World Renew over the years. As an expert in organic agriculture, Lazaro teaches countless communities around the area how to fertilize, water and maintain crops.

After seeing what Lazaro was doing, Nick saw the hope and excitement of growing plants in Guatemala and wanted to bring that back to his home community. During his week at Serve, Nick thought of ways to give hope back to people. One idea was to have a community garden to give people hope, dependence, excitement and ambition.

Although the plans are just an idea yet, Nick has learned through a life-changing World Renew Guatemala trip and a Youth Unlimited Grand Rapids Serve trip that people are in need everywhere. “Physical needs are slowly being met, both in Grand Rapids and in Guatemala; but the lack of hope, the lack of love, that is the real poverty.”

Deepening the understanding of global issues and encouraging action is what Youth Unlimited and World Renew are working to do for today’s youth. By broadening their perspectives and challenging their previous world views through experiences, relationships and passion for Christ, Serve participants get fully engaged into God’s community.

So what’s next? What will these kids do the other 51 weeks of the year? What can you do to mobilize the Church and help build the world view of global service to Christ in the next generation?

Pray for direction in continuing the good work God is doing through Youth Unlimited and World Renew. 

Give of your time and blessings to end world hunger by participating in the World Renew World Hunger Campaign this fall. Find out more at:

Fast during the campaign using Fast Forward Resources at:

Show the LIVE58 Film to your church. Find it at

Just as these teens had a week-long experience of community change, we can make a change together. Talk with your pastor or meet with your church council to see how your church can use your blessings to help spread the gospel and mobilize the Church.

Together, we can make a difference around the world, feeling comfort in knowing that, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”